The abuse of antibiotics in childhood can permanently damage the immune system of children, due to the effects on the natural bacteria that exist in the intestines, say the authors of a study published this Wednesday.
“It is time to question practices established decades ago, when we did not know so much”, said Neonatalogist Hitesh Deshmukh, also the author of the study published in the journal Science Transnational Medicine, which published the results of his studies on the effects of the use of antibiotics in young rats.
Some scientists at the Cincinnati-based pediatric hospital in the United States have concluded that antibiotics that protect against infections hamper the development of commensal bacteria living in the gut, making the rats more vulnerable to pneumonia. In the long run, even cause damage to the immune system.
In almost all cesarean births in the United States antibiotics are given to pre-delivery mothers to prevent deadly streptococcal infections, and about 30 percent of newborns also receive antibiotics preventively, without any confirmed infection.
“So, to prevent infection in a child, we are exposing 200 to the unwanted effects of antibiotics,” said Deshmukh, who advocates “a more balanced approach”.
As in the body the antibiotics fight all the bacteria, even the diners, that exist in the digestive system and contribute to the formation of the immune system. In reaction to the presence of these bacteria, the body produces immune cells that will act specifically on the lungs, so when the population of commensal bacteria is affected, the lung defenses suffer.
If antibiotics are used more sparingly, children will have more time to replenish their commensal bacteria, yet it would take months, even as babies develop their immune system. The scientists also point out that there are several ways to restore balance and defense of the lungs.
Overuse of antibiotics may explain why some people have asthma and other respiratory diseases despite not having any genetic risk, they argue.